HERE’S THE CONTROVERSIAL CLIP:
Ivan Sanchez, Bronx County Buzz Examiner
January 9, 2012 – Like this? Subscribe to get instant updates.
I first learned of the latest Facebook / Twitter controversy by way of a new friend, Julio Ricardo Varela, of the popular Latino Rebels organization when he wrote to tell me he just wanted to share a video titled, “ABC’s “Work It” Show: Insulting Puerto Ricans.”
I braced myself as I clicked play and prepared to watch the great insults spill out onto the screen, into my brain and out of my fingertips typing up my response of anger and insult on Facebook sharing with the world how disappointed I was about another disrespectful portrayal of Latinos on the screen.
But then an interesting thing happened when the video ended… nothing.
I had to go back and watch it again to be sure my lack of outrage wasn’t a mistake since a lot of the people I respect in this world (George “Urban Jibaro” Torres, Julio Pabon Sr., Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, Rhina Valentin and the Reverend Carmen Hernandez, just to name a few) were already up in arms writing about their own disappointments and where to meet to force an apology out of ABC.
Latinos are fast if nothing else… But still, for me there was nothing.
And after a third view I drafted my simple response to Mr. Varela while stating, “This is where I kind of get stuck somewhere between entertainment and reality… For me personally, this wouldn’t have bothered me as much as it seems to be bothering so many others… But then again, I have had to deal with the whole “stereotypical” story-telling label after Next Stop came out… Certain people saying I was portraying us in a bad way, when in actuality I was just portraying my neighborhood, from my eyes… No apologies, no excuses, no glorification.. Just honest… So again, this isn’t a battle I’d choose… While I do respect that others would want to go to war over it…”
Stereotype – A word I truly have come to despise since becoming a professional writer.
To me the word is as meaningless as the one liner thrown into ABC’s Work It looking to garner some kind of shock value out of a new show. My belief is the line was probably written by a Caucasian male whose fascination with movies like Empire, Carlito’s Way and Scarface have led him to believe that Latinos know how to sell drugs very well – and well, I’ll take that as a compliment being that I sold drugs and I was absolutely horrible at it.
I may be the only crack dealer from the Bronx to have had a career that lasted all of a few hours on the corner. And for the sake of full disclosure let me not forget about the time I smoked all of my profits and re-up money when I took a quarter-pound of weed on consignment… Not the sharpest drug dealer to ever walk the concrete slabs of New York.
To ignore that many of us have walked these paths or witnessed many in our neighborhoods walk these paths before finding their way in life is to pretend Judge Edwin Torres didn’t write two brilliant works, Carlito’s Way and After Hours. To pretend that Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets doesn’t exist as a Latino piece of literary genius and the list surely goes on and on.
The characters Judge Edwin Torres, Piri Thomas and myself write about are no more stereotypical than a police officer dressed in a uniform walking the beat pounding his nightstick on a shuttered store gate, no more stereotypical than a mailman trying not be bitten by a pit-bull on too long a leash, no more stereotypical than the old lady in the neighborhood who knows everything that happens because she spends her entire life perched atop a pillow in the windowsill keeping watch.
And there is nothing stereotypical about why each one of these characters chooses the path of destruction before finding their own demise or their own enlightenment.
So why are we always so upset about stereotypes that depict reality? Is it simply because they’re reminders of days gone by that we’d rather not remember?
Isn’t it our responsibility to reeducate and break those stereotypes in the real world?
I recall a time, not too long ago, being the only Puerto Rican from New York working in the offices of a billion dollar company in Virginia Beach, and I took a lot of pride in introducing my co-workers to the real side of what a Puerto Rican is, the passion, the drive, the loyalty, the integrity, the flavor, the sense of humor and the intelligence.
I was promoted six times in fifteen years and named employee of the year in 2002 out of several thousand employees for my commitment to the company and the communities both in Virginia Beach and New York.
That’s what any person, of any race, religion, creed or color should aspire to be.
So I don’t hide my past – I embrace it and use it to awaken others, not only to the fact that they can do it… But to awaken others in positions of power that when you give someone an opportunity to grow, to feed themselves and their families in a reasonable way – that they’ll no longer have to take to the streets to earn a living.
How many of you understand that?
And how many of you would take a risk on me? An ex-drug dealer from New York trying to find his way in a world that doesn’t often assist us in finding the right path.
So you see I’m not afraid of how people portray us in movies, music and books – I’m more afraid of how we fail to portray ourselves in real life.
If you want to be upset – be upset that we’re not getting the opportunities to portray ourselves in books and on the screen nearly enough than we should be. Be upset that the TV / Film world hasn’t yet opened the doors very wide to us and welcomed us in to tell our own stories.
Be upset about that – and perhaps in time we’ll become the controllers of those scripts and the holders of our own story lines, good, bad, indifferent, stereotypical, whatever… At least it’ll be written by us.
Until then… let’s be more upset that our young brothers and sisters have to take to the streets and sell drugs to feed themselves and their families.
We need to be more enraged about that, more passionate about getting that apology out of society… I’ll join you for that fight!
Bring the past only if you are going to build from it… ~Doménico Cieri Estrada